A West Virginia University student who wants to assist veterans who may have been wrongly discharged from service has been named a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow by the Campus Compact, a national non-profit organization that advances the public purpose of higher education to educate students for civic and social responsibility.
Garrett Burgess is a junior from Clendenin majoring in both political science and world languages, literature and linguistics with a concentration in Russian Studies in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. He is also an Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps flight commander and a student in the Honors College.
Burgess plans to use his fellowship year to work with the Veterans Advocacy Clinic in the College of Law to help who received less-than-honorable discharges due to misconduct arising from mental trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. These “bad paper” discharges make veterans ineligible for certain VA benefits, as well as make it difficult for them to secure private employment.
“I will be working with law school students to reach out to these veterans,” Burgess said. “Many of them don’t know they can have their discharges reviewed.”
“Garrett is a committed community leader who has answered the call to a life devoted to public service and personal sacrifice on behalf of our nation,” said Jennifer Oliva, director of the Veterans Advocacy Clinic. “We are thrilled that Garrett will join us next year to assist us in our efforts to upgrade the discharge statuses of our deserving veteran neighbors.”
Burgess is pursuing a long held dream of a military career in intelligence with a newfound interest in the Russian language. Last summer, he studied Russian in Latvia and Lithuania as a recipient of a prestigious Project GO scholarship, a critical language scholarship for ROTC. He was recently awarded a Gilman Scholarship to return to Latvia for an internship this summer. There he will conduct field research on the effects of the Russian language on politics and the relations between the Baltic nations and Russia.
His engagement with Russian Studies also extends beyond the classroom. Through the WVU Russian Club, Burgess participated in relief efforts to help those in his hometown during last year’s devastating floods.
“Garrett is uniquely positioned to serve as an effective agent in addressing public problems,” said Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University. “As someone who already leads military officers in training, and who will someday be a U.S. military veteran, Garrett is poised to make a real difference.”
Burgess is one of 273 students nationwide recognized by Campus Compact as public problem solvers. The Newman Civic Fellowship, named for Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, is a one-year experience emphasizing personal, professional, and civic growth. Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides a variety of learning and networking opportunities, including a national conference of Newman Civic Fellows in partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The fellowship also provides fellows with access to exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities. The Newman Civic Fellowship is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.